The Power of Exercise

It is widely understood that physical activity should be a regular ‘treatment’ for all of us. It can reduce the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, joint pain and an estimated 10% of breast and bowel cancers and is also good for mental health, as set out by a report by the Department of Health and Social Care in 2019.

“At Chai, we have long advocated and indeed witnessed, the benefits of physical activity for our clients. It can fit into the treatment programme of our clients at almost every step of the journey, from diagnosis to during and beyond treatment.” explains Chai’s Chief Executive, Lisa Steele.

Guidelines by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) ‘Exercise, Diet, and Weight Management During Cancer Treatment’ published last month support this view. According to the ASCO, doctors should recommend regular aerobic and resistance exercise for people receiving cancer treatment to mitigate side effects.

The report go on to say that ‘exercise interventions help reduce fatigue, preserve cardiorespiratory fitness, physical functioning and strength and in some cases, improve quality of life and reduce anxiety and depression’. As one of Chai’s physiotherapists, Johnny Lawton, described “as clients gain strength, their energy levels rise and they feel good about themselves.”

As a quick reminder, it’s 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity (e.g. brisk walking) or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity (e.g. running) along with two sessions to build muscle strength every week. [Recommendations as set out by the Department of Health and Social Care in 2019 for general health physical activity]

“Physiotherapy is suitable for our clients, as long as their consultant is in agreement. Each person receives a tailored combination of movement and exercise, manual therapy and advice.” explains Chai physiotherapist, Graham Silas.

The ASCO report reflects what many similar studies suggest that both quality of life and cancer-related symptoms such as fatigue, pain and anxiety improve in those patients undertaking a physical activity programme both during or after treatment.

Importantly, it seems that this benefit relates to physical activity levels following diagnosis rather than before, and the effects seem to increase with more exercise. Studies have also shown that chemotherapy is better tolerated and treatment completion rates higher in those patients taking part in resistance training. “The more the body operates at its optimum, the better recovery and survival is.” explains Graham.

So why isn’t physical activity embedded into cancer patient pathways already?

One reason could be that it can be a daunting prospect for people who are living with cancer, especially if they have never visited a gym before. As Graham explains, “it may seem an impossible demand to get fit when cancer is the main focus, but with support from experts who understand the impact of cancer, we can make it easier.”

“This is why for many years physiotherapy has been an integral part of our services at Chai.” explains Lisa Steele. “Our experienced team will work with our clients and help them formulate an exercise programme that’s right for them. That can range from a young man who may want to start to play football again to an older client who wants to walk to the shops. We can help them plan their daily activities so that they save energy and if they want to do more activity, they can show them ways to exercise safely and help manage symptoms like fatigue and breathlessness.”

Chai’s centres in London and North Manchester offer the use of a gym which are always very busy with one-to-one and group sessions for up to three people, run by the physiotherapists. “For some of our clients the group dynamic is a great motivator” says Graham.

If a client is unable to travel to a Chai centre, wherever possible, we will provide physiotherapy in their own home. In addition, we offer physical group activities, such as Pilates, Yoga and a walking group in NW London (in partnership with Maccabi) which add an additional and important social element as one client describes, “physical activity helps with my breathing and stamina – I have also made good friends through the group.”